While we Minnesotans have a stiff upper lip when it comes to our Arctic winters, we do it with the knowledge that the payoff comes in the form of a beautiful summer when the breezes will be warm and the skies will be blue.
Sometimes, though, the breezes turn out to be warmer than expected, or worse yet, there are no breezes and we’re left with the dreaded “double H” — hot and humid.
When the temperature soars and the air is thick, the last thing anyone wants to do is stand over a hot stove or fire up the oven. Still, we need to eat, but too many dinners out can add up quickly.
To help keep your kitchen cool and your wallet safe, we’ve come up with a couple of strategies, along with some delicious summertime dinner recipes.
I know there are a million recipes for the slow cooker and Instant Pots, both worthy tools in the fight to stay cool. Here I’m going to focus on other tactics.
Start early. By the time late afternoon comes and you start to think about dinner, the heat of the day has hit its peak. That’s when thinking ahead makes a lot of sense.
Even if the weather isn’t hot today, you know that more dog days are coming before the season is over, so think about taking advantage of cooler summer days by stocking your freezer full of items that will make dinner quick and easy to pull together.
Freezing meats in a marinade not only makes them easy to thaw and toss on the grill, but the freezing process also drives more flavor into the protein. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Prepping burgers and freezing them for the grill, along with some buns, is also a timesaver when a trip to the grocery store on the way home from work is not in the cards.
An even easier meal can be made with lean meats, such as chicken breasts or steak that have been cooked, cooled (for the best post-thawed texture) and frozen to be thawed and added to salads whenever the spirit moves you. With all the bounty of the season, fresh veggies are easy to come by and no heat is necessary to pull them together into a beautiful salad, ready to be topped off with your precooked protein.
If your freezer is empty, don’t fret. Just try to get your cooking done in the morning or early afternoon so you can keep cool when temps spike later in the day.
Light soups, taco or sandwich fillings, which can be reheated in the microwave, are good candidates, as are salads, both green (hold the dressing until ready to serve) and grain.
Avocado Soup With Crab Salad is the perfect candidate for this strategy. Avocados are puréed with buttermilk, cream and lime juice, then set in the refrigerator to chill. Just before serving, chopped basil is stirred into the soup, which is topped with a simple salad of crab, chopped peppers, red onion, more basil and lime juice.
The result is a creamy, rich, satisfying soup that’s elegant enough to serve to company, and easy enough to make for an indulgent meal for yourself and/or your family.
Grill for now and later. Outdoor grilling is often the go-to cooking method when you’re trying to keep it cool indoors. It’s a smart move, but an even smarter one is to grill enough for more than one meal, making dinner the next day or the day after, even less of a chore.
Whenever I get the coals glowing, I will look through my refrigerator and freezer for any uncooked meats or vegetables I can add to my grill. Grilled vegetables are a wonderful thing to have at your disposal. They can be added to any salad or sandwich. They can even be puréed with some broth, either chicken or vegetable, with a fresh herb or two and a splash of citrus or vinegar for a lovely hot or cold soup.
Making use of leftover grilled meat in a sandwich is an obvious choice, but there are days when a sandwich just doesn’t feel like dinner. When you’re looking to take your sandwich to the next level, consider leaving off the top and making it open-faced.
Open-faced sandwiches accomplish two goals. Without the top piece of bread, the sandwich feels lighter — always a plus in the summer. It also forces you to eat it with a fork and knife, which just feels more special, in addition to slowing down the meal a bit, giving you time to relax, enjoy a glass of wine and perhaps even have a conversation with your dinner partners. A revolutionary idea, I know, but one worth considering.
Leftover, thinly sliced grilled steak will find no better home than on this Open-Faced Steak and Arugula Sandwich With Sun-Dried Tomato Aioli. It starts with a hearty, rustic bread, thickly sliced and toasted, slathered with a flavorful mayonnaise, aka “aioli,” made with sun-dried tomatoes, loads of Parmesan cheese and just a touch of garlic. Arugula, cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced red onions are piled on, along with the slices of steak and a showering of shaved Parmesan. Now that’s stepping up your sandwich game.
Bring both strategies together for a Mexican Street Corn and Chicken Pasta Salad inspired by the iconic Mexican street food elotes. Elotes is made by slathering smoky grilled or roasted corn with a generous amount of mayonnaise and coating with crumbled Cotija cheese, which is the salty counterpoint every ear of sweet corn needs. A dusting of cayenne pepper and a squeeze of fresh lime is all it needs before you hand over your money and attempt to eat it without getting mayonnaise all over your face.
For a fork-friendly, more meal-like version, grilled corn, which can be leftover from the night before or grilled just before assembling the salad, is mixed with a lively dressing made with mayonnaise, lime juice, chopped jalapeño chile and a dash of cayenne. Shredded rotisserie chicken is added, along with cooked pasta, fresh cilantro, green onions and crumbled Cotija cheese. The whole thing can be made and served right away or covered, chilled and served later in the day.
A little planning, a hot grill and a cold fridge can keep you cool in the heat of summer. No matter how hot it gets, though, try to enjoy it. Winter is coming.
Avocado Soup With Crab Salad
Note: Creamy and rich, this sophisticated chilled soup will refresh and satisfy you on even the hottest summer night. Keep in mind, flavors tend to dull when cold, so make sure to taste and re-season, if necessary, before serving. From Meredith Deeds.
• 2 1/2 c. chopped avocados (3 to 4 medium)
• 3 c. buttermilk
• 1/2 c. heavy cream
• 3 tbsp. fresh lime juice
• 3/4 tsp. salt
• 1/4 c. chopped basil
• 6.5 oz. lump crab meat, picked over
• 1/4 c. finely chopped red bell pepper
• 1/4 c. finely chopped red onion
• 2 tbsp. finely chopped basil
• 1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
To make the soup: Purée avocados, buttermilk, cream, 3 tablespoons lime juice and salt together in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap to surface of soup so it does not discolor. Chill for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
To make the salad: In a small bowl, gently combine the crab meat, bell pepper, onion, 2 tablespoons basil and 1 tablespoon lime juice, trying not to break up the crab too much.
To assemble: Stir the 1/4 cup chopped basil into the soup. Taste and re-season with more salt and lime juice, if necessary. Divide among 6 serving bowls and top each with some of the crab salad.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 245 Fat 17 g Sodium 660 mg
Carbohydrates 14 g Saturated fat 6 g Total sugars 7 g
Protein 11 g Cholesterol 60 mg Dietary fiber 5 g
Exchanges per serving: ½ milk, ½ carb, 1 lean protein, 3 fat.
Open-Faced Steak and Arugula Sandwiches With Sun-Dried Tomato Aioli
Note: You can use leftover steak and toasted bread, or grill your steak and your bread immediately before assembling your sandwich. From Meredith Deeds.
• 1/4 c. mayonnaise
• 3 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
• 2 tbsp. sun-dried tomato paste or finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil
• 1 tsp. lemon juice
• 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
• 4 (1-in.-thick) slices sourdough or rustic Italian bread
• 1 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
• 3 c. arugula
• 1/2 c. thinly sliced red onions
• 12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
• 3/4 lb. leftover cooked grilled flank steak, thinly sliced, preferably at room temperature (or grill the steak specifically for this recipe)
• 2 oz. shaved Parmesan cheese
In a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise, grated Parmesan, sun-dried tomato paste, lemon juice and garlic.
Position a rack 5 to 6 inches from the broiler element and heat the broiler on high. Brush one side of each bread slice with olive oil. Put the bread on a large baking sheet. Toast under the broiler, 1 to 2 minutes per side.
Spread equal amounts of the mayonnaise mixture on the slices of toast, oiled side up. Distribute the tomato mayo, arugula, onions and tomatoes on the toasts and drizzle with olive oil. Top each with some of the steak and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 520 Fat 24 g Sodium 770 mg
Carbohydrates 36 g Saturated fat 7 g Total sugars 6 g
Protein 40 g Cholesterol 85 mg Dietary fiber 3 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 2 starch, 4½ lean protein, 2½ fat.
Mexican Street Corn Pasta Chicken Salad
Note: Grilling your corn for this flavor-packed salad gives it a smokiness indicative of the famous Mexican corn on the cob, either grilled or roasted streetside before being slathered in mayo and coated in crumbled Cotija cheese. You can always sauté your corn kernels in a hot skillet if grilling isn’t possible. From Meredith Deeds.
• 3/4 c. mayonnaise
• Zest of 1 lime
• 1/4 c. fresh lime juice
• 1 jalapeño or serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped
• 3/4 tsp. salt
• 1/4 tsp. cayenne powder
• 5 ears of corn, husked
• 8 oz. uncooked cavatappi, penne or other short pasta
• 2 c. shredded rotisserie chicken
• 2/3 c. Cotija or feta cheese, crumbled, plus more for garnish
• 1/2 c. thinly sliced green onions (green parts only)
• 1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
• 1 tsp. chili powder
To make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the mayo, lime zest, lime juice, chile pepper, salt and cayenne powder. Cover and chill until ready to use.
To prepare salad: Prepare grill for medium heat. Grill corn, turning occasionally, until tender and charred, 8 to 10 minutes; let cool slightly. Cut kernels from cobs and transfer to a large bowl.
Cook pasta to al dente, according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water to cool. Drain well and transfer to bowl with corn.
Add chicken, 2/3 cup cheese, green onions and 1/2 cup cilantro. Add dressing and toss gently to coat. Garnish with a sprinkling of chili powder and more cheese and cilantro.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 440 Fat 23 g Sodium 720 mg
Carbohydrates 40 g Saturated fat 5 g Total sugars 4 g
Protein 19 g Cholesterol 50 mg Dietary fiber 3 g
Exchanges per serving: 2 starch, ½ carb, 2 lean protein, 3½ fat.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @meredithdeeds.